Television has been influential in many aspects of modern society, but how has it impacted presidential elections? Today, many people get their news from television programs including almost everything about elections. Every four years, millions of Americans watch the presidential debates live on the television and listen to analysts’ interpretations of every move each candidate makes. Americans are far more informed about who they are voting for, but could the television actually have a negative influence?
Although it has made elections increasingly accessible and given the public more information, the television has actually corrupted the election process by making candidates more concerned with their image than with the actual politics. Television has definitely impacted the presidential elections, both positive and negative. The invention of the television in the 1940’s started a revolution in communication within the United States. As Dr. Stanton puts it, “Television, with its penetration, its wide geographic distribution and impact, provides a new, direct, and sensitive link between Washington and the people. ”
Ever since the advent of the television, Americans have become increasingly informed about politics and what goes on in their country. For example, during the recent government shutdown, many children and teenagers were glued to the television absorbing every detail. In the realm of presidential debates, more Americans have been able to witness important events in order for them to make a more educated and informed decision when voting. With the help of the television, over thirty million Americans watch the debates during every election seasonAlthough television has allowed people to become more aware of politics, it raises the question of whether this cognizance is beneficial or detrimental.
First of all, television has created disinterest among the public and formed the idea that image is more important than pursuing real solutions to actual political problems. For example, in 1992, Bill Clinton was asked to discuss what type of underwear he preferred.
As Hart and Triece explain, Presidents are becoming more viewed as celebrities rather than leaders as they are frequently “judged by the standards formerly used to assess rock singers and movie stars. ” In addition, television creates a “sense of intimacy” that makes Americans feel close to the candidates. During the 1960 election, Theodore H. White claimed that the “television had dumbed down the issues” during the debates; moreover, White states that Kennedy won because “his image was ‘crisp’” and Nixon lost because his “light-colored suit, wrong makeup, bad posture” created a “fuzzed” image.
The failure to actually focus on problems in the country and the fact that Kennedy won based on appearance illustrates the negative impact of television on the elections. Other than the emphasis on image, television has also made some of the public disinterested in politics. The “hyperfamiliarity” with politics that television gives people has created “contempt for politics itself. ” In other words, politics is discussed so much, and often in a negative way, that countless Americans have begun to ridicule it. Television has had a dire and long-lasting effect on presidential elections that has altered the view of most Americans, as well as the presidential candidates.
Some might say that the invention of the television has actually made presidential elections better because the American public is now more informed and can thus make more informed decisions when it comes to politics. However, with the television, Americans are mostly subjected to unimportant and superficial information. Campbell states that large amounts of Americans have been “given a new, immediate contact with political events. ”
This new contact is indeed important and progressive, for nobody wants to be in the dark about what goes on within their country. With a new, less politically educated audience through the television, however, candidates are forced to overly simplify or “dumb down” their ideas. Furthermore, the candidates work harder to make this larger audience relate to them by appealing to pathos and ethos, but less logos. Thus, while television has introduced the realm of politics to the American public, it has also tainted presidential elections. Although the advent of the television has had positive effects on presidential elections, the negative effects are more significant.
It has changed American politics from policy driven to personality and image driven. Moreover, the public tends to vote for whoever looks most composed during the debates, or who shows the most compassion after natural disasters, but not who may have the best ideas. If a candidate is unattractive, unkempt, or a poor speaker then hardly anybody will vote for him or her, no matter if he or she has a plan to save the world. This is what television has created. Politics are either too boring or too superficial and we have yet to find a good medium that both interests and correctly informs the public.